27/04/2016
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

INTERVIEW: Vintage caravans, the history of Cheltenhams and more (part 1)

1e425eec-14dc-49f3-a9e8-9073636f7bf2

In part one of a three part series, Caravan magazine talks to Cecil Gardner, caravanning royalty and son of Cheltenham Caravans founder, about speeding, gas explosions, touring during the war and more…

 

What’s your earliest memory of caravanning? Did your family caravan before they started the business?

“Well, no. My father bought an ex army ambulance in 1918, and he turned that into a motorcaravan. He decided there was no future in this because, of course, in those days there were no caravan sites at all!

“With a motorcaravan you had to have a dead level site otherwise you’d fall out of bed, and in those days if you wanted to go and buy a pint of milk you had to take the whole thing with you. We’re talking in the days of gravity feed petrol, so the tank was high up in the ambulance part, and the only cooker he’d got was a solid stove.

“Imagine the size of that. If it was hot enough to cook, you wouldn’t really want that around the smell of petrol, so that’s another reason why he decided there was no future in it. He started building caravans.”

 

Did that business end up being successful then?

“Oh, yes. We started hiring them but it eventually got to the stage where people actually bought them! So then it became an established business.

“My father started to build Summerfield caravans, named after the house we lived in, in Cheltenham. He only built them under this name for a few months, in fact, before they became Cheltenham caravans. That would have been around 1930, I suppose.

“I can remember my first caravan. Of course, they were square boxes in those days. The first night we were out, I was in a bunk. My father had forgotten to bring the pole to set it up so we went to the local forest and chopped down a couple of saplings to stick under the bed!”

 

At what period did you start to work in the business then?

“I joined in 1948. My first job was to go on a Calor Gas course, as it was relatively new in those days. We learned the hard way about that. If we got a new design then we tried it out on ourselves to start with.

“We tried to make the cooker neat and tidy, behind a set of doors in the caravan. I remember we were meeting some friends at the Cap d'Antibes, and my mother said to my father: ‘You said you’d put the kettle on, and you’ve forgotten,’ but he hadn’t forgotten, in fact.

“She opened the doors and, as you probably know, Butane actually had no smell at all then, so she struck a match; it blew up and blew the side of the caravan out! So my father had to cook for the rest of the holiday as she was all bound up.”

 

That’s incredible! And a trip to the Cap d'Antibes is quite an adventure on its own, even today. What was it like then?

“Well my father, as a matter of routine, always wanted to do 100 miles before breakfast. We deliberately hammered the caravan so that if anything was going to fall off, we would find out what is was before we built them for the customers.

“It didn’t always work that way, mind you. Sometimes things would fall off that you just didn’t see again. If, for instance, you could avoid going over the French pavé, he wouldn’t!

“When we tested Elsan, which was literally a bucket, and Racasan, which was a bucket with a sealed lid, we went into Switzerland; opened the door when we stopped and the lid had come off as we passed over the bumps. The whole contents of the toilet was running across the caravan floor, so we didn’t buy any more after that…”

 

Click here to read part two

Click here to read part three

 

Also read:   Caravan reviews       Subscribe to Caravan magazine     Caravans for sale    


Sign up to the e-newsletter for free

 
Or simply tell us what you think!
 
          

 

 

Back to "General" Category

27/04/2016 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Make the most of the year ahead with an early-season caravan getaway. We pick 12 excellent sites around the country to help you make the most of the ...


Caravan Awards 2018 - The Winners

It's that time of the year when we announce to readers our choices on the best of caravans and caravan ...


Kit & Caboodle Gear Reviews: Accessories New Year 2018

Kick-start your caravanning year with various practical accessories for easier touring ...


Caravelair 2018 Buyers Guide

Your guide to everything you need to know about the latest Caravelair models ...


Other Articles

If you enjoy walking on your caravan holidays, then a good set of clothing to keep you comfortable while out on the hills or in the valleys is ...


Outwell Caravan Awning Review 2018

New for 2018, the Outwell Tide 380SA is an air-framed caravan porch that inflates in just four minutes ...


Cooking in a caravan: Toad in the hole by Monica Rivron

This month we begin another tasty Monica Rivron 'cooking in a caravan' Cookery series, in association with ...


Men’s Firebrand II Waterproof Shoes - Great shoes for caravanners

Deciding on what footwear to take on your caravan holiday depends on several factors. What’s the weather ...